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The Shaft
Charles Tomlinson

For Guy Davenport

The shaft seemed like a place of sacrifice:
You climbed where spoil heaps from the hill
Spilled out into a wood, the slate
Tinkling underfoot like shards, and then
You bent to enter: a passageway:
Cervix of stone: the tick of waterdrops,
A clear clepsydra: and squeezing through
Emerged into cathedral space, held-up
By a single rochsheaf, a gerbe
Buttressing-back the roof. The shaft
Opened beneath it, all its levels
Lost in a hundred feet of water.
Those miners—dust, beards, mattocks—
They photographed seventy years ago,
Might well have gone to ground here, pharoahs
Awaiting excavation, their drowned equipment
Laid-out beside them. All you could see
Was rock reflections tunneling the floor
That water covered, a vertical unfathomed,
A vertigo that dropped through centuries
To the first who broke into these fells:
The shaft was not a place to stare into
Or not for long: the adit you entered by
Filtered a leaf-light, a phosphorescence,
Doubled by water to a tremulous fire,
And signalling you back to the moist door
Into whose darkness you had turned aside
Out of the sun of an unfinished summer.

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